A Nod to Nordic Noir
Henning Mankell, whose Wallander mystery series paved the way for the legions of atmospheric Nordic tales available in translation today, died recently from cancer. Faceless Killers was the first in his series featuring the personally troubled, yet professionally astute, police inspector Kurt Wallander. Set in the icy grey environs of Sweden, the book took the average police procedural and expanded it with its fully fleshed-out characters and a story that confronts racial prejudice against refugees.
The Wallander series spawned not just one, but two faithfully rendered yet surprisingly different television iterations. The first, from his native Sweden, premiered in 2005 and starred Krister Henriksson in the title role. Its strong suit is the rich supporting cast who are flawed but utterly humane. The BBC came out with an English-language series in 2008, with Kenneth Branagh upping the melancholia and bringing more psychological intensity to the role.
For more Nordic dramas of the gloomy and gritty variety, try these: The Eagle is a Danish production about the cunning yet tormented police officer Hallgrim Halgrimsson and his colleagues at a newly established international criminal investigative unit. Inspector Irene Huss is a wife and mother of teenage girls, in addition to being in charge of solving violent crimes. Then there’s Borgen, featuring high-stakes political drama and intrigue in Denmark.
Turning back to books, our Nordic Noir booklist will point you to more moody mysteries from the northern ends of Europe. Among those featured is Jo Nesbo’s Oslo police detective Harry Hole, an alcoholic on a downward spiral who has a knack for solving gruesome serial crimes. If you want the brooding yet effective detective without the Nordic setting, also try Ian Rankin’s Scottish Inspector John Rebus, or Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series set in Los Angeles.
Lastly, if you haven’t read Mankell’s work outside of his Wallander series, do give it a try. He consistently shows a knack for evocative settings and complex characters. One example of this is his book Italian Shoes, about a surgeon who goes into self-exile on an island north of Sweden. It’s a reflective, moving tale of redemption and mortality.
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